Alison RyanComment

The Big Island - My Travel Diary

Alison RyanComment
The Big Island - My Travel Diary
Hawaii is paradise born of fire.
— Randy McNally

Day 1 - November 21st

Thankfully since we were flying from Houston, to LAX to Kona the flights weren’t too long but it was still a long travel day. The airports in Hawaii are all open concept. Meaning everything is outside and, well, open. Palm trees, all the wood structures, and the hot humid air gave me my first taste of Hawaii when we landed in Kona late that night. Once we got our rental Jeep we made the 25 minute trek from the airport to our Airbnb. It was dark, but on the drive I remember thinking “Wait… this is Hawaii? Everyone kept talking about how beautiful it is, I don’t understand, I must be missing something.”
Boy, was I. I can’t even begin to describe how surreal it was spending a week on this island.

Travel/airfare: I want to share with you all about the amazing airline tickets we found, that made this trip possible. 4 years ago my husband, Michael, heard of Scott’s Cheap Flights (when Scott first started this company, before he hired employees) through Reddit and decided to sign up for the emails. Daily, an email blast gets sent out with amazing prices on airline tickets for places all around the world. When we saw tickets for around $300, an unheard of price; they never get that low, to Hawaii, we couldn’t let an opportunity like that pass. If you love traveling, I highly recommend signing up for his e-mails.

Housing: We stayed in an Ohana. A Hawaiian word meaning a small living quarters for family. It was a one bedroom, one bath with a very small kitchenette underneath the main house. It was simple but it was perfect for what we needed - a place to sleep, washer and dryer and a fridge to hold some groceries.

Day 2 - November 22nd

Grocery store: With it being Thanksgiving we knew it would be a slow paced day since our options would be limited. We found a small local store nearby that was open half the day. Some items I thought were very reasonably priced considering most things are transported in, while others were absurd ($6 for a little thing of strawberries! I made sure every single one was eaten. 😂). I felt like we didn’t get *that* much stuff, mainly a few breakfast and sandwich items for lunches, some alcohol for Michael and yet our grocery bill was right around $200 and that didn’t even last us the entire week. I want to add that there was a Wal-Mart further away, so maybe they would have had some better prices.

Magic Sands Beach: With it being one of the few public beaches in an actual town it typically gets very crowded but with it being Thanksgiving it wasn’t too bad. It is nice, yet a small beach. There was still a decent amount of people but everyone had their own space without being on top of one another. We got to see so many black crabs of all different sizes, a couple sea urchins, lots of little fish, along with other sea creatures I’m unfamiliar with.

Sunset: We watched the sunset from the Casa-De-Emdeko condos in Kaiula-Kona. It is gated however, we knew someone living there (they have a great airbnb you can rent out). It was a beautiful, open, picturesque view of the sunset.

Day 3 - November 23rd

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park: This beach is so quiet and peaceful if you go in the morning before it gets too busy. Before leaving for this Hawaii trip we had asked Berkeley what was on her bucket list, what did she want to do and see. “Sea turtles and starfish” was her reply.
We were told this is the beach to go to if you want to see turtles and they were right. There were about 10 of them sun bathing. They flutter their little eyelashes and it is the cutest thing. We also got to see a fairly large angel fish swimming around that came right up to us! The water at this beach wasn’t very deep at the shore and the lava rocks broke the waves which allowed for everything to stay calm. Because of that we were able to let Berkeley wade around without having to be too worried. Getting her to leave was another story. 😉

Scandinavian Shaved Ice: It was SO good. The process of how they made it was a lot of fun to watch. They form this huge mountain of shaved ice, Michael’s eye bugged out and he asked them “are you sure that’s the size small?” After piling on the shaved ice they scrape off the unwanted stuff before pouring the syrup on and as they do they begin to pack it down and shape it into the snowball. The syrup was flavorful without being too overly sweet and the ice was the smoothest. Highly recommend. It is located on a road that has tons of gift shops if that interests you.

(The picture of them making the snowcone was after they had already scrapped off the unwanted ice!! 😯)

Kekaha Kai Beach Park near Makalawena: I’m not going to lie, the drive getting to that beach was rough. Not just figuratively but literally. You are driving on a lava plain for, well, I don’t know for how long, but it was long enough for you to wonder if you should trust your GPS and if you are going to get whiplash. 😅 Poor Berkeley had fallen asleep on the drive and I had to do a death grip to hold her head still, trying to keep it from bobbling around. If you are in a low car I wouldn’t recommend going. It probably could have done it but it would be risky. This was one of the largest beaches we went to on the whole trip. Apparently this is the beach to surf at which would explain the full parking lot but the empty-feeling beach. This day someone was out spear fishing and caught about 20 fish, all decent size and an assortment of species. He was nice enough to let Berkeley and I take a look. Another neat thing is, you could see the island of Maui from this beach. Downside, there were only port-a-potties. There was construction while we were there so hopefully they are changing that. Out of all the beaches we went to during this trip, this one was probably my favorite.


Mile Marker 91 Road Side Lava Tube Cave: Sits off of Queen Kaahumanu Highway. On the way to the beach we saw this cave and decided that on the way home we would pull over to check it out. I recommend wearing close-toed shoes because lava rocks are very jagged and sharp and the ground is uneven. I had my sneakers on and Michael was in flip-flops. At a breaking point he needed to climb out but I was able to keep going further. It was a fairly short hike through it and you climb out the other side but still very cool. Lava was everywhere you looked. It was neat to see the lava runoff formations and the uniqueness of it all.

Kona Brewing Co. & Brew Pub: Our friends kept telling us to do dinner at happy hour, not just for the cheaper drink prices but because there is no wait. We had every intention to do that every night, but by the time we finished up with our day’s adventures and got cleaned up it never happened. That being said, the wait was long. Michael was a happy man and enjoyed some good beer and we shared a pizza. Hawaiian Lu’au: Kalua prok, BBQ sauce, maui onion, mozzarella, chevre and pineapple salsa. I know I can be a pizza snob, so take what I say as you wish, I thought the pizza was good but it didn’t stand out to me. The dough itself was fine tasting to me but the ingredients tasted dry and not as flavorful as I had hoped.


Day 4 - November 24th

Hilo: We only did a couple things in Hilo, but we easily could have spent a full day in this town. There is a lot to do and see. We hit up the Hilo Farmer’s Market. It’s under a few white tents; one is just for food items, the second one was for jewelry related items (I bought a pair of glass blown earrings!) and the third was a mix of art, clothing, and the broad category of items for the home. The food tent was so crowded, it reminded me of what you’d see in movies. There were a lot of unique finds, still sad I didn’t buy any of the fresh produce. From there we made a short drive to Rainbow Falls which is located in Wailuku River State Park. This waterfall is 80ft high and you get a really good view of it. We were able to see the rainbow but I hear if you go early in the morning, before breakfast, you are able to see many rainbows.

Scenic Route: Heading to Waimea there is an option to take this scenic route which is from Pepeekeo to Papaikou. I highly recommend it. It is beautiful - so lush and tropical. There is a spot in this drive that you can park on the side of the road and you are able to climb down the side of the mountain to see breath-taking views. This is not an easy trail, I was told. Parts of it are steep and slippery. Berkeley had fallen asleep so I sat in the jeep with her while Michael did a portion of the trail and snapped some amazing pictures. It is right by the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, so that would be a great place to type into your GPS to get you there. 🙂


What’s Shakin Big Island: Passed this little food stand out in the middle of nowhere in Pepeekeo and of course we had to stop to get a smoothie. Quite a few smoothie options as well as sandwich and wrap options, all made with fresh, healthy ingredients.

Waimea: Was a nice change of scenery from the rest of the island we had been to. Endless pastures, rolling hills and livestock. It has such a laidback and cute vibe. If you are a foodie, this seems to be the area that has some really great restaurant options. We only spent a few hours here and I left yearning for longer. If I were to come back I would want to split my time between Kona and Waimea.

The Fish and the Hog Market Cafe: Is a quaint little place with a menu that caters to everyone. I loved how light and cheery it looked with the knick-knacks, bright colors and eclectic furnishings. They are known for their bbq pork so we got the Chef’s Specialty limited time hamburger, Ultimate Moinkburger. BBQ chopped brisket on top of their bacon cheddar brisket burger with a side of onion rings as well as their Fish n’ Chips that came with homemade tartar sauce and French fries. Beer-battered fresh island fish had batter so thick and airy that when you bit into it crumbled in your mouth. If you are one of those (😝) people who like soggy fries then you would enjoy these, however, I was a little disappointed since I like crispy fries.

Akaka Falls State Park: If you park inside of the gate it is $5, but if you park along side the road outside of the gate you don’t have to pay. Entrance fee is $1 per person. There is a designated path that takes you to the 442 foot tall waterfall. It is a short 0.4 mile walk with a few stairs here and there. My gosh, with the relaxing sound of the waterfall and birds chirping you couldn’t help but to be relaxed. The thick tropical vegetation was so beautiful and scenic, it was entrancing. I wanted to stop and take a picture everywhere I looked. You can’t get close to the waterfall, but the view you get is still worth it.

Waipi’o Valley Overlook: We were running out of daylight, so unfortunately we weren’t able to do the Waipio Valley hike or guided tour (I imagine this is very interesting because of all the important history and culture in this “Valley of the Kings”) but we had to stop at the overlook. It was worth the drive. This fertile valley was breathtaking. Hamakua coast meets black sand, stretching about one mile across and is over five miles deep of green, lush vegetation, surrounded by cliffs up to 2,000 feet high, covered in the same green vegetation. When we go back, doing the Waipi’o valley hiking trail is high on our list.

Day 5 - November 25th

Waialea Beach: There was a $5 parking fee at this beach and they actually had a real bathroom and a shower station to rinse off at. This seemed to be one of the more popular beaches we went to. Thankfully we got there early so we were still able to choose, relatively, where we wanted to put our stuff but by the time we left people were right on top of each other and the parking lot was FULL. This was a nice beach in the aspect that there were trees on the beach - perfect for children and those with fair skin who are concerned about burning. The snorkeling was pretty good at this beach as well. Not that I know first hand, but there were so many people out there snorkeling and Michael did it a lot.

Island Breeze Luau: Was at the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. While pricey and I *feel* like it wasn’t worth it, I am glad that we did it… just to know what it was all about and to experience a luau. It was by the water and the view was really pretty, which of course was my favorite part. The cons that made me feel like it was not worth it: 1) I’m sure the ceremony parts were very interesting but if you weren’t in the front it was very hard to hear and see. 2) The dinner buffet they opened up table by table. We were at one of the last tables to get to go and by the time it was our turn they were putting it all away in 30 minutes. So if there was something more you were wanting you had best get it quick. 3) Last call for the bar was at 7:30. 4) It was hard to follow along with the story and the entertainment itself didn’t hold our attention. Not even Berkeley’s.

Day 6- November 26th

Hawai’i Volvanoes National Park: You. Guys. This should have been common sense but we weren’t thinking. So maybe you can learn from our lack of judgement and prevent yourself from making the same mistake. Those who follow along my instagram stories, you will have already heard this story and hopefully got a good laugh at it… because I am currently giggling just thinking about it. Knowing we were going to be hitting up the beach after the volcanoes, we decided to wear our swimsuit attire.
‘Keeping it simple’, I thought.
Before heading out Michael asked “Should we leave the top of the jeep on, or should I take it off?”
We both agreed that we are in Hawai’i and we need to take advantage of the beautiful weather we were having. Because we had all the other beach equipment (umbrella, towels, water, snorkeling gear, etc) there was no room for the top so we left it at our airbnb. We were enjoying the beautiful day—the wind in my hair, the fresh island smell, the warmth of the sun on my skin. However, the more we drove and slowly started to rise in altitude the darker the sky began to look. It began with little rain droplets, which somehow miraculously didn’t get into the jeep and the temperature dropped slightly. Before we knew it, the temperature plummeted 20 degrees and it was raining hard. We were wet. We were cold. The only warmth we had was the jeep’s heater and a couple of beach towel, which I layered on Berkeley who was in the back crying from being so cold. Even with the heater on, we couldn’t shake the chill that went to our bones but it did eventually cause Michael’s phone to shut off from getting over heated - which we were using as our GPS. When we finally made it to the Volcano National Park the rain thankfully had let up and was back to just drizzling. Michael had the bright idea to use the beach umbrella to keep the jeep dry. There it was, a white jeep with black trim in a sea of other jeeps with a big Tommy Bahama umbrella opened up, resting on the top of the roof. 😂 It worked though; it kept the inside of the jeep dry. There we were, barely in any clothes, using our beach towels as jackets/blankets to keep ourselves semi-protected and warm. I couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous it looked, or how we looked.
At the visitor center there is a little exhibit you can go through as well as watch a short video. From there you can walk to the sulfur banks and steam vents and steaming bluff. It is worth the short hike to see it all, just know, if you are unfamiliar, that the smell of sulfur is very prominent. From there we drove to the Devastation Trail parking lot and made the roughly 0.8 mile hike to the Keanakâko’i Crater. It was pretty hard to see the true aw-factor of it between it being foggy that day and having to try to get a glimpse between the trees that have grown around it. Due to the aftermath of the earthquake that happened spring of 2018 a lot of the park was closed off due to safety reasons. There is a road that takes you right past the Halema’uma’u Crater but because portions of the road had collapsed it was only open and available to walk by foot. Even though I wish it hadn’t been so foggy and that we would have been able to get closer to see the true mass of it (normally you can, but again, due to the earthquake they had it blocked off) it was still amazing and mind boggling. I walked away feeling small and thankful for the beauty all around me.

gif_1550069920 copy.gif

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach: Again, we were running out of daylight time so it was a short stop. This beach is easily accessible and the contrast between the black and the palm trees lining the beach was really picturesque. Did you know that when hot lava enters the water it cools down so suddenly that it solidifies and shatters into large amounts of black sand? Because of that it’s not super soft sand, still fine pieces though.

Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill Kona: Being by the ocean I was so excited to eat some really great seafood, but I was so surprised (and kind of disappointed) that most restaurants, in the area we were staying in at least, didn’t have any seafood options. Unless you wanted poke. After telling a local friend we were wanting good sea food, she recommended this place. Jackie Rey’s has a great atmosphere, friendly service and delicious food. It tends to get busy, so I’d call ahead and make a reservation. The clam chowder we ordered as an appetizer was by far one of my favorite things I ate on the whole trip. I still to this day wish I had an entire bowl to myself. For the main course we ate the daily special: Mochiko crusted fresh Ahi, Molokai sweet potatoes with a lime ginger and mild wasabi sauce and the Seafood Trio: Grilled fresh Ahi, crab cake, shrimp kabob, sweet potato with a thai coconut sauce. Out of the two I thought the Seafood Trio was the best. If you are in Kona I highly recommend you eating here.

Day 7 - November 27th

Kona Joe’s Coffee: The view alone of the coastline from the property is worth it. They were amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better spot to sip a cup of coffee. Even if you don’t like coffee they offer homemade cheesecake as well as some other items. We took the coffee tour that they offer. It was very informative and the lady who did the tour was very knowledgable and enthusiastic. It was interesting learning about the process, beginning to end - where to plant, the harvesting (each person roughly picks 200lbs of the coffee fruit by hand 😱), the processing and packaging and everything in between. So much effort goes into making coffee.

Kekaha Kai Beach Park near Makalawena: I told you this was probably my favorite beach. 😏 The water was choppier than it had been the other day but Michael was still able to snorkel and even got to swim with two sea turtles! We kept getting slammed into rocks due to the water being rough, I hurt my foot and went home with my legs covered in bruises and Michael sliced his finger open... what’s a trip without an injury?! 😅 We stayed out there all day, soaking it all in and watching the sunset. It was gorgeous. So quiet, peaceful and secluded feeling.

Broke Da Mouth Grindz: What drew me to trying this place was that Chef Robin Ganir and his wife mixed filipino and Hawaiian flavors together while coming up with their menu items and the fact that out of 1,125 reviews it has a 4.5 star rating on yelp. Later on I learned it had been on the TV show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It is very small, dingy, hole-in-the wall restaurant. We ordered to-go and the wait was very reasonable, maybe 10-15 minutes. Like always, I wanted to sample the menu. We got Garlic furikake chicken and white rice, braised short ribs, garlic butter shrimp and kimchee rice, pork adobe fries, side salad and tuna macaroni salad. The portions were fairly generous for a reasonable price. While the food was good, it did not blow me away. The furikake chicken was crispy and flavorful yet a bit oily. The short ribs were very tender and probably my favorite out of everything we tried. Also, I thought the pork adobe fries had good flavor but they probably would have been better to eat there because well, I don’t like soggy fries. Michael enjoyed the kimchee rice, it had a kick to it but not overly spicy.

Day 8 - November 28th

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park: There is a small $5 fee per vehicle to park/admission. If you are interested in (Hawaiian) history and culture this place is a must see. Even if you’re not, you would enjoy it and it’s perfect for the whole family. There is something so calming and renewing about this place. They have a Park Ranger Talk where you can learn more in-depth stories and history, but I was unable to attend it. The actual grounds are self-toured - rocks are marked by numbers and in a paper pamphlet you carry with you, the exact history or story about that landmark is explained. It is nice that you are able to go at your own pace. Everywhere you looked you wanted to take a picture because of how beautiful and intriguing it was. There was someone dressed (if you like ‘views’ you’ll like this one 🤪) and acting in character. It was fascinating watching him carve something with a hatchet out of a piece of log. It is common to see sea turtle basking in the sun on this beach and there is a local beach near the historic park that supposedly has amazing snorkeling. The beach looked very popular- so many people! I highly recommend stopping by, even if it’s only for an hour or two.

Holy Donuts: If you like yeast donuts, this place is for you. There are so many fun, huge, gourmet donut options. I wanted Berkeley to get the passionfruit donut since she loves passionfruit boba tea but instead she insisted on the strawberry with sprinkles. Michael got the Creme De Leche and I honestly can’t remember what I got but I do know it was a chocolate base topped with oreo cookie crumbles and chopped peanuts, drizzled with caramel and white chocolate.

One Aloha Shaved Ice Co.: The sitting area was very spacious, perfect for large groups of people. There is no fancy presentation when it comes to making the ice but the thing I did love about it was that it was all natural. No artificial sugar or coloring and made with real fruit. You could taste the freshness and they layered on the syrup.

Ola Brew: Was small, quaint and inviting with the dark wood. We popped in as a last stop before heading to the airport. The tours had already ended for the day but there were some large windows with a bar style seating that allowed you to look down at the hop tanks. There was bar seating as well as high and low tables. All the seating was close together; I suppose you could say it made it cozy if you want to look on the positive side. Michael tried numerous beers and really enjoyed them all. I had a dragonfruit lychee cider, light and not too sweet, which was just what I wanted. Listen closely, if there is one thing you are going to remember from this trip, remember this…3 Wheel Meals. Oh my gosh. My mouth still waters just thinking about the pulled pork sandwich and homemade sour cream and onion chips we had. It might be the best I’ve ever had, seriously. It is a food truck that is only out there in the afternoons. Besides the clam chowder soup, this was by far both of ours favorite thing we ate the entire trip.

Whew. Reliving these memories makes me want to go back ASAP and for a longer period of time. There is SO much to do and see.

Before I close I am going to share some of the things that we wish we could have done and some things that were recommended to us that we weren’t able to get to:

  • Mud lane - for a hike and a swim in the waterfall

  • Kua Bay - dolphins can be spotted here!

  • Umekes Fishmarket Bar and Grill - I hear the grilled fish tacos, the Ahi Katsu, the poke and the beer are the best.

  • Octopus and sea horse farm near Aloko-Honokohau National Historic Park.

  • The market in Kona happens a few times a week. It is the best place to get papaya and avocado

  • Big island brew for a coconut/coffee porter

  • Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut company

  • Pineapples Restaurant in Hilo

  • Waimea farmers market

  • Red Barn in Waimea for the best grilled cheese

  • A star party

  • A boat excursion

Thank you so much for following along! I hope you enjoyed the read—that this was resourceful information and got you inspired to go on an adventure!